In the two weeks since my last visit to Japan House at the University of Illinois Arboretum, life around the pond as become significantly more … green. The trees and shrubs around the pond have burst forth in leaf, replacing the grey, brown and red tones of the grove with multiple shades of bright spring green.
Japan House is about a mile from my office, so I briskly walked down over lunch to take advantage of a sharply blue sky decorated with ever-changing clouds. Approaching from the north, I first saw the pond through the stand of baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) that grows on its northwest corner. A carpet of auburn composed of last season’s foliage and fruit sprung softly underfoot as I walked beneath the trees.
The Yoshino cherries that were in full bloom two weeks ago now frame the walkway as living stanchions. Despite a light breeze that rippled the water, their green reflected along with the sky in the pond surface.
I was disappointed to see that I missed the peak bloom of the downy hawthorns (Crataegus mollis) that edge the north side of the pond. The remaining flowers were somewhat spotty, but revealed glimpses of what the hawthorns must look like in full bloom.
Many of the hawthorn flowers were completely spent, leaving only vestiges of stamens and sepals alongside serrated leaves.
Now that the hawthorns have leafed out, I realize that what I had identified as a single Crataegus species is actually two different species. Interplanted with the C. mollis are several specimens of what appear to be C. crus-galli (Cockspur Hawthorn). I had strongly suspected from the difference in buds during late winter that they might be separate species, but couldn’t confirm this until the leaves emerged. Now the differences are obvious.
It is quite apparent from the morphology of the hawthorn flowers that this tree is a member of the rose family along with crabapples, cherries and other ornamental fruit trees.
From across the pond, I thought that the pink-flowered tree in the background was a late-flowering cherry. As I approached its low-sweeping branches, it became clear that it was a wizened old crabapple (Malus sp.) that hadn’t forgotten how to bloom.
The five-petaled flowers faded from white to light pink, uniquely veined with bright pink. Centered with yellow stamens, the loosely-clustered flowers were unlike any crabapple cultivar I’d seen before.
A small bee slowly made its way through one of the flowers. Temperatures were hovering near 60 degrees in the sun, and this little pollinator seemed a bit lethargic as a result.
Numerous clusters of dead branches line the underbelly of the trees’ canopy, providing the tree a great deal of aesthetic character when standing beneath it. I was struck how this change in perspective paints a completely different story of this single tree.
The gardens around Japan House have sprung back to life as well. Looking out over the manicured evergreens surrounding the raked gravel of the dry garden adds new dimension to the grove across the pond.
Along the stone walking path a small patch of dwarf bearded iris (I. germanica) bloomed.
At the main entrance to Japan House, a clump of Anemone flowers danced in the light breeze. Their cheery welcome was somewhat surprising, as I’ve only seen Anemone that bloom in summer and fall. I hope to follow up with the garden curators to discover the cultivar so I can add it to my own garden.
Immediately to the north of the entrance is the gate to the tea garden, framed by a redbud (Cercis canadensis) whose flowers seem to congregate along the branches.
Cloud cover increased as I made my way through the garden, allowing the the new leaves and seeds on the Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) to illuminate the path.
Near the exit of the garden, a variegated Daphne bloomed in the shade. The flowers reminded me of miniature jasmine or perhaps Kalanchoe. I loved the contrast of the white flowers with the lime-edged, deep green foliage. This Daphne (perhaps D. odora ‘Aureo-marginata’) is another plant I’ve added to my home garden wish list.
Leaving Japan House, I noticed that one of the trees in the row of Yoshino cherries was still blooming. The identification tag was missing from the tree, so I’m unsure of the cultivar name for the double-flowered cherry. It almost appears to be a cross between a Yoshino and the flower shape of the weeping cherries. Whatever the variety, it was a splendid way to end my visit to the Japan House Pond.